This post is a bit of a departure from my usual blog posts. But recently in one of my jewellers groups, I’ve been hearing a lot of my colleagues talking about it. So I thought I’d share a bit of insight from my previous life. The first part gives a little background on imposterism followed by some strategies to overcome it.
Before I transitioned to jewellery designer, I was a business psychologist (actually I still am!) working with people in large and small organisations. A recurring theme, especially among women, was the concept of the imposter syndrome. I coached some very senior professional women who had achieved a huge amount of success in their careers yet they sometimes still felt like a fraud. To be honest, there were times when I felt it despite my own successes.
For those of you not familiar with it, the imposter syndrome is a phenomenon originally presented in a research paper in 1978 by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. The main tenets of the syndrome were:
- Thinking that people have an exaggerated view of your abilities
- The fear of being exposed as a fraud
- The continuous tendency to downplay your achievements (this was my main challenge)
They went on to suggest that women who reported imposter feelings tended to lack self-confidence, and suffered frustration related to inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement”
And “thus, unlike men, who tend to own success as attributable to a quality inherent in
themselves, women are more likely either to project the cause of success outward to an
external cause (luck) or to a temporary internal quality (effort) that they do not equate with
inherent ability.” Logically, we know this is rubbish!
Typically this phenomenon tends to occur when we take on new roles, or new responsibilities that may push or test our abilities. Events such as making a career shift, achieving stretch goals or taking on new challenges that we don’t have experience with, can bring on feelings of anxiety and the ensuing feelings of being an imposter. For most of us the feelings are temporary but for some it becomes much more challenging and potentially self-defeating.
As a jeweller, jewellery designer/maker, especially a new or young jeweller or a person making a career shift into jewellery you are always pushing yourself, taking on new projects, learning new techniques sometimes by trial and error. If you are self-taught or haven’t had access to a mentor, it can feel as if you are swimming alone in a vast ocean. You may be constantly questioning if you’re doing it the right way, or comparing yourself to everyone else who seems to “know” what they are doing and showing all of their amazing creations. I certainly felt that way when I first started silversmithing and I knew I needed to get a handle on it, and quickly.
Self defeating behaviours such as dwelling on the things that didn’t work, the bad review, the mistakes etc. can work to wear away your confidence, question your choices and generally begin to make you feel incompetent. But feelings aren’t facts. They affect us deeply at times, but there is more to it.
Ok, so that’s the negative stuff. Focusing on the negative is easy. Do you remember that last performance evaluation you received? Can you name the positives, or can you only remember the negative things? It’s time to change the focus. I’m not suggesting ignoring the bad stuff, but pay just as much or more attention to the good stuff as well.
Imposterism can have a big impact on our confidence and even our careers. So it’s good to talk about it and acknowledge it, but don’t let it define you. As I mentioned, for most of us it’s temporary while we get to grips with our new challenge and gain experience. But if the feelings persiste, we need to do something about it. How do we stop focusing on the negative, the things we can’t control, and instead focus on the positive and the now so we can move forward?
A recent article by Kess Eruteya in the Harvard Business Review (I still read it, old habits die hard!) offers several suggestions for how to defeat (or at least control ) feelings of imposterism. I’ve expanded on them a bit below:
- Keep a positive mindset – don’t be humble about your achievements. They weren’t due to luck or happy accidents. You’ve been actively developing your skills whether through courses or your own ambition. You made this happen, you did that! Staying focused on the present, not worrying about the past or even the future(within reason of course), helps to control some of our anxieties and frees our internal resources to keep creating and to move forward. Also remember, with experience comes confidence. So give yourself time. Think of all that you have learned already, there will be more to come.
- Celebrate your wins – It’s easy to complete one thing and hurry on to the next without acknowledging the effort and success of your last project. Take a moment to celebrate, share your designs, let others celebrate with you. Ask yourself, what am I proud of in achieving it? You are not showing off, you are acknowledging you have created something amazing. Look how far you’ve come! To help you focus on your accomplishments write them down. No matter how small or big the win is, it is a win. Tiwalola Ogunles, the founder of Confident and Killing it, has a free tracker download to help you. Acknowleging our wins helps us to stay present. Think of it as a bit of mindfulness.
- Use social media (mindfully). Social media is both wonderful and horrible. So much is curated to let you see only the best bits of our journeys. Not the melted setting or the chipped stone (I managed to do it a couple of weeks ago and it’s onmy instagram! arrrrgh!!) . We’ve all done it. Find people and accounts to follow that leave you feeling positive about yourself, not wanting or wishing you were like them. Likewise, avoid accounts that are always doom and gloom. We are all on a journey. We take different paths. The things that interest us are different. We learn differently. So share and show what you love to make, wear or design including the disappointments. The people who share your vision will find you and appreciate you. And they may decide to join you on your journey going forward.
- Make a plan. Everything is about doing, and making a plan helps us to keep doing. So whether you are a to-do list kind of person or a wing-it when I feel it person. At a minimum, have a plan and be strategic about it. Write down your goals. Planning helps us to stay focused, and keeps us from being reactive (being reactive makes us feel like we are always trying to catch up – it’s exhausting). When we know what we are trying to achieve, it helps us avoid distractions, like that new bit of kit we want but have no idea how we’ll use it or the enameling class we want to take even though we haven’t started using the Keum Boo technique we’ve just learned. Ask yourself, “will it help me to achieve my goals this year, month, week?” It doesn’t mean you can’t do/buy them, but it does mean you plan when you will so you are laser focused on your current goals. It will help you to achieve even more.
While these strategies won’t guarantee you still don’t have feelings of anxiety or imposterism, they can help you to recognise your successes and accomplishments as well. And research shows the more we can stay focused on the positives, the present and what we can do here and now, the happier we become.
And who doesn’t want a little more happiness in their life? I’d love to hear your thoughts below! xx